Towards true sustainability

When are we truly sustainable? That is an inspiring question. As human beings we all aspire a healthy, happy and prosperous life for ourselves and for the next generations. However in our daily lives we all have different interpretations on how to deal with People, Planet and Prosperity when we make decisions as a consumer, an employee or a (business) leader.

Donald Trump, the current President of the United States, made it quite clear that he did not agree with the Paris accord where his predecessor Barack Obama (and almost all other nations in the world) reached an agreement upon. Trump has a different view how to value People, Planet and Prosperity from his perspective of “America First” and to “make America great again”.

These slogans are not so strange as they look. These type of slogans are used by many of us as well, when we consume and when we make business decisions it is often about “Me First” and “Make Me Great”! Although it is quite understandable, this type of thinking and decision making is quite opportunistic and short term oriented. In our modern integrated society, where there is free choice, the preferred choice of consumers and businesses will be to select those services and products that deliver the best value in terms of Profit, Risk, Prosperity, People and Planet. The internet will provide us with the best value solutions to make best value decisions.

In our aspiration for a healthy, happy and prosperous life for ourselves and for the next generations, we are already on a journey of becoming more sustainable. This means that it can be necessary to change some beliefs that we have, but we definitely need to innovate to become more sustainable. 

According to Dyllick & Rost (2017) true sustainable products are products that have a “net positive impact” on People, Planet and Prosperity. This can be achieved by creating more positive impact and reducing negative impacts.

Upcycle chart

Graph 1: The upcycle chart (McDonough & Braungart / MBDC)

To create a more positive impact we can use the seven dimensions, which are formulated by the International Living Future Institute (ILFI) based in the USA. These seven dimensions are:

  1. Place
    Restoring a healthy interrelationship with nature.
  2. Water
    Creating developments that operate within the water balance of a given place and climate with a net positive contribution.
  3. Energy
    Relying only on solar income in a safe and pollution free way.
  4. Health & Happiness
    Creating environments that optimize physical and psychological health and well being.
  5. Materials
    Endorsing products that are safe and healthy for all species through time.
  6. Equity
    Supporting a just and equitable world.
  7. Beauty
    Celebrating design that uplifts the human spirits.

Although we have not yet reached “true product sustainability” where all products are on a net basis contributing to People, Planet and Prosperity, we do have the capabilities with the internet today to select those services and products that deliver the best value based on their contribution to for example the seven dimensions as formulated by ILFI.

Norbert Bol


Dyllick, T., & Rost, Z. (September 2017). Towards true product sustainabilityJournal of Cleaner Production,  162, 346-360.

Photo creditandres musta via / CC BY-NC-ND

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